Mercedarian’s throughout the world celebrated today, May 6th, as the Solemnity of our father and founder, St. Peter Nolasco.
St Peter is recognized as the founder of the Order on August 10, 1218. It was St Peter who was first inspired to begin collecting alms to ransom Christian captives in Muslim occupied areas of Spain. On January 17th 1235, the Holy See recognized the action of the Holy Spirit in the founding of the Order. The charism of redemption that came through St Peter Nolasco is the specific gift of grace given to the Church. This is what the Church approved. It is what unites the Order and brings us together with one purpose to serve the Church.
In modern times, the some communities have left the original charism or spirit of their founder. The result is that they lose their identity and purpose. To leave the founders charism is to separate the institute from what was approved by the Church. The Holy See has asked communities repeatedly to return to the spirit of their founder. They are to adapt this spirit to the present circumstances of the world. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this issue saying that today many “communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present.”
It is for this reason that the Mercedarian have a very special veneration for St. Peter Nolasco. We strive daily to imitate his redemptive love for Christians in danger of losing their faith. We have statues and images of St Peter in our chapels and throughout our friaries. We pray to him in common each day. On Saturdays, we sing an ancient hymn in St Peter’s honor; praying for his intercession and to imitate his profound love for the captives. The Order’s Constitution also asks each Mercedarian Friar to “study diligently his life and mission in the Church”.
On May the 6th, the Order celebrates solemnly the feast of our founder. Here in the United States this means that we place a special emphasis on praying the Office and celebrating Mass with great solemnity. The Office is often times chanted and the Blessed Sacrament may be exposed. Mass is offered at our parishes with the Gloria being sung and the Creed recited. The main celebrant will preach setting forth the virtues and example of our beloved founder. The celebration continues throughout the day as Mercedarian friars, sisters, and the third order get together for a meal and to socialize.
It is in this way the we keep the memory of our founder strong in our minds. We know that his is still present with all the Mercedarian Saints praying and interceding for the work of the Order. For our part, we strive to continue the charism of St Peter Nolasco on into the third millennium of Christianity.
St Peter Nolasco, pray for us that we may always be faithful to your spirit of redeeming love for Christians in danger of losing their faith!